Understanding Passion and Its Utility

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Article by: Stephen Kimani

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"Follow your passion, and you will never have to work a day in your life," Mark Anthony.

This is one of the fundamental pieces of advice for success in the 21st century. While it might appear to be plain and simple advice, we all know nothing is ever black and white. Most of the 'success' advice is subjective.

To understand the advice and apply it to your situation, you need a deeper understanding of the concept of passion, because, behind these words, there is a long process that includes discovering your passion, monetising and sustaining it. There is even a school of thought that questions whether we should monetise or practice our passions for nothing more than pleasure. Both schools of thought offer sound arguments, it just depends on what the recipient wants to do with the information.

In this paper, we seek to understand the term passion on a granular level and attempt to answer some questions surrounding this concept.

Evolution of the term passion

Over the course of history, different terms have been used to denote the concept of passion; what it represents has shifted over time.

The earlier recorded usage of the term passion is in the Christian setting that was used to describe the suffering of Jesus, the phrase used here was the Passion of Christ. During this time, passion was used to express deep anguish. Hence, if you were passionate about something, you were experiencing a great deal of suffering for that thing.

This concept has been maintained in the word compassion. Compassion is a combination of two words from Latin "passion" and "com". "Passio" translates to passion, and the prefix "com" means "with" hence compassion translates to "suffering with". Therefore if you are compassionate towards someone, then you feel the suffering of that person.

In the current understanding of the term passion, the suffering aspect is not as intense. It is now understood as a sacrifice. You are expected to make sacrifices for that which you are passionate about. Passion, therefore, contributes to one's success since it makes one more willing to make the necessary sacrifices. You are willing to stretch yourself a little further (take on a bit of suffering) than the average Joe.

In the 14th century, this term shifted into the medical scene and was used to describe psychotic fits or episodes of madness. These states were marked by strong excitement, agitation or other intense emotions.

Nowadays, although not to psychotic levels, passion causes excitement to undertake given tasks and a range of corresponding emotions depending on whether things are or aren't working out.

In the 17th century, the term shifted again and was now used to describe interest, enjoyment and intense enthusiasm. This primarily houses the current understanding of the term passion, but soon after, it was boiled down to expressing sexual desire. It is not until the late 20th century that the current understanding of the term passion peaked. This is the usage of the term passion as we currently understand it in published books.

Understanding the current definition of passion

The current understanding of the term passion is "a strong inclination toward an activity that one likes, finds important, and invests their time and energy into".

In understanding passion, scholars use the dualistic model. This model classifies passion into two, harmonious passion and obsessive passion.

Harmonious passion is intrinsic; it just happens that you are inclined to like particular things as a result of varied factors ranging from your environment, background or personality. On the other hand, obsessive passion is learned passion. You deliberately learn a skill, and you get obsessed with it until it becomes your passion.

Understanding passion from this perspective is essential since it allows you to understand your inclination better. It also offers a route for learning new passions, exploring and experimenting with passions that you are more likely to enjoy. For instance, outdoor activities may be more harmonious for an extrovert while indoor activities may be more suited for an introvert.

The process of finding passion

Going by this definition, passion then is an inclination. The inclination is influenced by a feeling, an emotion towards something. The only way to find that feeling is by doing the thing. If you are passionate about playing music, you have to pick up an instrument, learn and play and as you play, you will notice how that makes you feel. You might have to go through several instruments to find out which one gives you the most satisfaction.

The process of finding your passion is, therefore, a trial and error process. If you want to figure out what you are passionate about, you have to immerse yourself in the experience. Only after the experience can you qualify or disqualify yourself.

Key to note, a peripheral analysis of a passion can give you the wrong idea, which might lead you to make a bad decision or commitment. If you love the piano, you are not passionate about playing it until you have had hours of strenuous practice, got a little better and still love the experience; only then can you qualify that you genuinely enjoy the piano.

You cannot claim to be passionate about something when looking at the result alone; you must understand the process.

Also read: Embrace the Suck: How to Master the Subtle Art of Painful Practice

Finding one's passion entails the following steps:

Activity selection

At face value, you can tell activities you are more likely to enjoy and those you have no interest in. In this stage, you are just trying and sorting things out.

Activity valuation

This is just dipping your toe in the water and finding out if you like the temperature. At this stage, you might shed a few activities from your list. You conduct the first trial and see if the enthusiasm sticks.

Activity internalisation

This is the commitment to the process of learning the activity. You get to learn the rules, the guidelines and the dos and don'ts. At this level, you get to be an amateur and work yourself upwards. The more you commit, the better you become. If this is your passion, your interest grows, and you become more passionate about the activity.

Passion is vital for two reasons

1. It breeds competence

If you love something, you make it your mission to be good at it. As previously discussed, you are willing to make sacrifices and suffer to get good at it. Today's suffering might not be on the cross, but it is in committing. By committing, you suffer financially and time-wise. When you commit to learning an activity, you invest time and money. Passion ends up making you more competent because you have put in the time to learn and invested in work tools. This eventually makes you successful at whatever it is that you are doing.

2. It creates autonomy and relatedness

As previously discussed, the internalisation of a passion gives rise to an identity. This identity leads to individuation. You can define yourself as a single entity providing a given value. It allows you to be an individual. The development of this identity is critical since it improves your self-esteem and your self-confidence.

Due to the autonomy gained, you can relate to people with similar or complementary interests. You can belong to relevant tribes. By being more relatable, you improve your chances of becoming successful.

Although these two concepts sound like opposites, they are very complementary, and if one works out, it boosts the other. The more autonomous you become, the better you are at being relatable and relating to others.

Also read: The Power of Passion: How My Love for Football Changed My World

Utility of passion

It helps you narrow down what matters to you and what doesn't

Life is too short to spend time doing things that do not bring you fulfilment. Identifying things you are passionate about allows you to engage in the things that add flavour to your life.

It helps you identify where you will be able to offer the most value with the least strain

Comparing the amount of strain there is in learning something you are disinterested in and in something you are interested in, the difference is enormous. Identifying your passions allows you to pick the most accessible course for you and your well-being.

Arising questions

Should all our passions become our careers?

It is critical to understand that one is not limited to a single passion in life. You can have a dozen of passions. Hence it might be a tall order to forge a career out of all your passions. Not all passions have to be careers or avenues of money. Some have to be undertaken for the sheer joy of the undertaking.

If passion is an emotion, how do we sustain the emotion for the course of our career?

Since passion is an emotion, it is more like a relationship. A romantic relationship is based purely on what the partners feel about each other. Some days are good, and some days are bad, but you will ride the waves if you have the right partner. Passion is similar. Before you settle on a passion that you want to make a long term commitment, make sure it is worth the downside that it comes with.

Also, just like in a relationship, find other exciting things to learn or ways to apply your passion in other areas relevant. Be experimental with the passion so that the novelty of your passion does not fade away and it becomes just another activity you have to undertake.

How can I turn my passion into a career?

To turn a passion into a career, we must understand what it takes to have a career. A career is a commitment to offering a given type of value to the society where you get paid for it. Society cannot pay you just because you are passionate about something. Your passion has to solve a problem in society.

For one to solve a problem or provide value, they have to have skills. The passion that you choose to base your career upon should be an area where you can learn hard skills that can be quantified in value so as to be able to negotiate with society for an offering.

Before you settle on a passion and commit to learning the associated skills, find out the market value of the gifts. It will be rather a futile endeavour if you commit to learning skills whose market value does not allow you the life you want to live. The compensation formula should be relevant to your needs. If these are out of order, that passion might turn into resentment.

It is important to note that passion is not a guarantee of success; it might just make the trial worth it. Just as in the example of a relationship, the fact that you love someone does not guarantee a happy ever after; it only makes it worth trying. So many other factors are in play for it to all workout, and you must be aware of them.

How is passion related to meaning in life and fulfilment?

Meaning in life and fulfilment go hand in hand; they are achieved when one feels they have contributed to humanity. In the process of living one's passion, one can provide value and be a valuable member of society. By carrying out activities that bring joy, one feels that their life is not in vain. They find value in their lives. This makes life more meaningful and fulfilling.


Passion contributes to one's success in life. That being said, it is not a guarantee. If you take the concept at face value, it is likely to result in frustration. However, if you are willing to commit and put in the necessary work, it will all be worth it in the end. Just like a good relationship requires work, so does passion. In addition, you have to find out different passions that you have, identify the ones for fun and enjoyment only and the ones for monetising. Make sure that you do not engage your passion in a way that ruins the fun for you. Keep exploring, experimenting and learning. And lastly, enjoy the process.

Also read: Follow Your Passion Might Have Been the Wrong Advice


Produced by Living The Dream

Written by: Stephen Kimani